Hello Handshake/the Spiveys
Hoverboard/Marry Me Joanna
Our youth is often the time period that most informs our musical tastes as adults. And the Balsa Glider’s sound is indicative of the alternative rock and jangle pop styles that surfaced in Southern college towns in the `80s and `90s as alt-rock was beginning to really grab hold of the mainstream. While Chapel Hill (where the band members met) was gathering indie cred for bands like Archers of Loaf and Superchunk, the members of Balsa Gliders were collecting professional degrees. Its members are all grown up now. Their day jobs include banker, lawyer, doctor, and Episcopal priest. But those years spent absorbing the Southeastern sounds of R.E.M. and Let’s Active certainly color its brand of rock nearly twenty years later.
A lot of bands of that era come to mind when I listen to its new EP “Photographic Friends.” The matter-of-fact vocal delivery with a slight whine reminds me of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore or Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus crossed with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar, but without the slacker quality of those voices. The material ranges from bright, hopping jangle pop to more introspective.
You get a sense of nostalgia from the lyrics too - maybe some of the characters the group sings about are inspired by those from its past? The lyrics are like clever little puzzles hidden beneath bouncy pop songs that the listener can piece together with multiple listens. They aren’t necessarily cloaked in mystery, but include colorful details that flesh out their subjects. “Cable Came to Kinston” is pretty obvious, but that’s why I like it. There are also subtle musical touches as well such as the keys (which get a zippy solo) and backing “oohs” of the opening track “Cooleemee Girl” or the fluttery guitar picking as “Man the Mountain” builds to a close.
Producer Greg Elkins who has worked with Whiskeytown, Chris Stamey, and Birds of Avalon adds to the raw authenticity of the record.
The Raleigh-based sextet keeps two feet firmly planted in Charlotte (those of drummer Chuck Price) and the band’s main songwriter and vocalist Charles Marshall grew up in Charlotte and has family here. What’s becoming its annual winter show at Visulite Theatre is sort of a homecoming. The group, who got its start in DC, is back in Charlotte Thursday, December 15 at the Visulite with Yates Dew. Tickets are $10. Show starts at 8:45 p.m. 704-358-9200; www.visulite.com.
Jazz Funk Xmas Jam
8 p.m. Friday, December 9, Chop Shop, 399 E. 35th St. $10. www.chopshopnoda.com
Charlotte fusion ensemble Groove 8 heads up a unique holiday concert featuring rap, soul, funk, and jazz from hip-hop artists Yogo Pelli and Phive, saxophonist Adrian Crutchfield (of Anthony Hamilton’s band), and soul rockers Lucky Five.
Nora Jane Struthers
8 p.m., Friday, December 9, Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St. $10-$12. 704-376-3737.
There’s something sinister and bookish under the sweet vocals, crisp, restrained instrumentation, and literary lyrics of this up and coming new grass-tinged folk singer who's a former high school English teacher (check out the twisted murder ballad in the above video).
8 p.m. Friday, December 9, Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd. $37.50. www.ticketmaster.com
The piano-pop hit makers who opened the Fillmore’s neighboring amphitheater two summers ago returns for the WKNX Kissmas concert (interestingly tickets are also nearly half what some seats were at the outdoor show).
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
7:30 p.m. Sunday, December 11, Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St. $10-$12. 704-358-9298.
She’s folk music royalty (her grandpa was Woody and dad is Arlo) and he was part of `90s Chapel Hill alt-rock outfit Queen Sarah Saturday. Today, they’re a dreamy folk-rock duo returning to his Carolina roots for the holidays.
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 13, Visulite, 1615 Elizabeth Ave. $17-$20. 704-358-9200.
A favorite of TV music directors who place her adult contemporary songs on shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” she divides her hushed, breathy alto between innocent and sultry over intimate piano pop or, at one point, a wicked channeling of the Eurythmics and Concrete Blonde (listen above).
9 p.m. Wednesday, December 14, Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St. $7. www.etix.com
This married Cleveland duo create dynamics-driven, experimental art rock that recently caught the attention of “Rolling Stone” who called its third album, “Madness in Miniature,” “Rust Belt scrappy and dreamily explosive.”
Chatham County Line
7 p.m. Thursday, December 15, Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St. $15/$30 VIP. 704-358-9298.
The Chapel Hill act delivers two sets – one of its traditional acoustic bluegrass and a second electric set that’ll serve as a reunion for guest drummer Zeke Hutchins who also reunites with the aforementioned fellow Queen Sarah Saturday alumni Johnny Irion who opens the show.
The first hour-plus portion was threaded with a Christmas narrative from TSO’S 1996 album “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” about a lonely soul whose perspective on the holiday changes after meeting a wise old man in a bar on Christmas Eve. The arrangements interspersed originals with traditional carols such as “Silent Night” and “O’ Come All Ye Faithful” as well as music from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” which served as a highlight. An original R&B ballad belted by Erica Jerry morphed into “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” While the gentle violins from “The Nutcracker Suite” later tiptoed into a heavy, bounding version which featured quick guitar licks that could’ve been lifted from a number of hard rock classics.
While the classical bent of the show made it more of a quiet sit-down affair without a steady stream of people heading for the bar, there was plenty arena rock grandeur. The crowd wooed and whistled at guitarist Joel Hoekstra, a lanky Sebastian Bach-looking player with long blonde waves, as he shredded on his Les Paul at the foot of the stage.
For many Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s concerts are a holiday tradition. The audience certainly had its favorite performers in band leader/guitarist Chris Caffery (who wore a Bobcats’ jersey with his name on it during the break) and vocalist James Lewis whose lead on songs like “Ornament” added a touch of gruff biker-cool. The crowd also seemed familiar with vocalist Ronny Munroe who appeared as a costumed homeless man with the voice of a European Neil Diamond during “Old City Bar.”
While the diverse cast of lead vocalists, animated violinist Roddy Chong (who led a 7-piece violin section made up of local musicians), and narration from Bryan Hicks made for plenty going on, the production was actually the real star. At one point tiny bubbles fell slowly creating realistic falling snow that evaporated as it landed on the crowd.
The light rig and drum kit were massive. Part of the light rig extended halfway into the audience, featured screens that hovered over the floor seats, and lowered to form a catwalk over the crowd where the musicians and dancer/singers could perform from platforms.
The production only escalated after the holiday portion of the show when the band performed songs from its 2009 double album “Night Castle” and 2000’s “Beethoven’s Last Night.”
“You want to see this stage come alive?” asked Caffery between sets. Alive meant transforming the backdrop, screens, and light rig into a mechanical fire breathing dragon. While that sounds preposterous, it was actually very cool and well done, with eyes and teeth appearing on screens as the three light rigs opened and closed while fire shot from the dragon’s “mouth.” If Grammy’s were given for production this seems like a clear winner.
The female singers from the choir formed a dance team for the second half as well. The women used their hair as another limb, swinging it back and forth in whiplash-inducing sync. Considering the hair-dancing and headbanging a more fitting name might be Tran-Sibhairian Orchestra.
Although there wasn’t anything as impressive as the dragon, the onslaught or pyro and fireworks continued through “Beethoven’s 5th” and a finale that wound its way back to the holiday theme with the mashup of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells" - signature TSO.
The concert is over-the-top from beginning to end, cheesy and sort of delightfully self-aware of that factor. But I found at some point even those who are apprehensive (like myself) to the general ridiculousness of combining such equally grand yet seemingly disparate elements in a non-traditional holiday show eventually succumb. Within the context of the show (at least by the third or fourth song), it no longer seems so ridiculous.
8 p.m. Friday, December 2, Amos' Southend, 1423 S. Tryon St. Sold Out. www.amossouthend.com
For WEND 106.5's annual Not So Acoustic Xmas, the station presents "an evening with" the quirky alt-rock band who will perform two sets (no openers).
The Chelsea Daggers
10 p.m. Friday, December 2, Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St. $5. 704-333-9799.
This stirringly original local trio melds heavy, bluesy stoner rock with haunting Yeah Yeah Yeahs-like vocal invention, but the eclectic outfit can burst into a poppy `80s-inspired chorus, sixties rockabilly throwback or experimental cabaret. With the Malamondos and Foe Hammer.
Carolina Chocolate Drops
7 p.m. Saturday, December 3, Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St. $20-$23. 704-358-9298.
Having gone from a youthful string band born out of the Black Banjo Gathering at Appalachian State University to Grammy winners, the trio returns for its semi-annual winter performance - its first in Charlotte with its new lineup.
8 p.m. Tuesday, December 6, Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd. $39.50. www.livenation.com
After his performance during Speedstreet last Spring, the man of many hits is back to ring in the holiday season with fellow classic `70s and `80s rock vocalists Mickey Thomas from Starship and Lou Gramm from Foreigner.
George Porter, Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners
9 p.m. Thursday, December 8, Double Door Inn, 1218 Charlottetown Ave. $12. 704-376-1446.
At 63, the influential veteran Meters’ and Funky Meters’ bassist leads this New Orleans’ outfit with a loose improvisational feel that seamlessly fuses his roots in funk, R&B, jazz, and rock. With Donna Hopkins.
10:30 p.m. Thursday, December 8, Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St. $10. 704-376-3737.
Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Tom Hamilton (formerly of Brother’s Past) makes inspired Americana that’s anchored in sparse folk but flirts with pop charm on songs like the sing-songy, whimsical “Swimming at Night” and the bluesy road song “Dance All Night.”
You Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band/Simplified
8:30 p.m. Friday, November 25, Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St. $12. 704-358-9298.
Two of the most popular local acts from Asheville and Charlotte, respectively, come together to help fans work off holiday calories with `70’s-inspired jam-funk and laid back sunny modern rock grooves.
500 Miles to Memphis
8 p.m. Saturday, November 26, Tremont, 400 W. Tremont Ave. $8. 704-343-9494.
The punky country or country punk combo plays music at the intersection of the Smiths and Drive By Truckers. The bill includes a healthy support lineup featuring locals Pullman Strike, Evelynn Rose, and My Captain, covering bluesy rock, country, and post-punk.
8 p.m. Sunday, November 27, Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd. Sold Out. www.livenation.com
Pittsburgh’s answer to Eminem lite, the up and coming emcee is more good time party starter than angry rabble rouser whose Asher Roth-meets-Eminemesque rhymes strike a chord with the MTVU audience.
8 p.m. Sunday, November 27, Ovens Auditorium, 2700 E. Independence Blvd. $34.40-$60.55. www.ticketmaster.com
Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle) enlists a cast of musicians, including UK opening act Carina Round (who reminds me of a cross between PJ Harvey and Led Zeppelin), to help realize his multimedia vision of dark humor and music that straddles moody electronics and biting heaviness.
8 p.m. Wednesday, November 30, Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd. $58-$69.50. www.livenation.com
Two weeks prior to the December 13 release of his new album “Back to Love” (which is full of mid-tempo soul and R&B throwbacks), the Grammy winning soul man/showman treats a hometown crowd to a post-holiday set.
9 p.m. Wednesday, November 30, Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St. $5. 704-333-9799.
This Charlotte trio’s jerky garage rock is punctuated with talky demonstrative vocals (think David Byrne-meets-Jello Biafra), angular rhythms, and raw surf-punk guitar. With Joint Damage and Great Architect.
The Joy Formidable/Middle Class Rut
7 p.m. Thursday, December 1, Amos’ Southend, 1423 S. Tryon St. $13-$15. www.etix.com
A favorite among peers like Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus and Dave Grohl (who invited it to open for Foo Fighters recently), the Welsh trio headlines the WEND Not So Acoustic Xmas warm up show with an infectious combination of walls of fuzz, hooks, and sweet soaring female vocals.
10:30 p.m. Thursday, December 1, Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St. $12-$14. 704-376-3737.
With a deep, masculine voice that hovers above adult pop songs, this singer-songwriter returns to the Muse on the heels of his recent live album. If you miss him Thursday, he’s also at Winthrop University’s DiGiorgio Campus Center The Edge in Rock Hill on Friday at 8 p.m.
Singer-songwriter Charlene Kaye is both opening for Team StarKid Saturday, November 19, and playing guitar in the YouTube sensation’s live band. Kaye gained attention for her work with her friend and StarKid co-founder Darren Criss of “Glee.” Their duets, “Dress and Tie” (above) and “Skin and Bones,” have received a few 100,000 hits on YouTube. The tour, which serves as a greatest hits of StarKid's musicals, finds her reunited with some of her former University of Michigan classmates. I recently spoke to Kaye who talked about her upcoming album and how the all female Guns n’ Roses tribute band she joined helped prepare her for shredding on the StarKid stage.
Were you involved at all with the StarKid productions in college?
No. I was doing my music and I was always aware of everything they were doing because I was friends with Darren and because he brought me to the musicals. He was my portal to that world. I met everyone through him. We all kept in touch. I moved to New York and the "Potter” musicals blew up. Then I got this phone call from Dylan (Saunders of Starkid) who asked if I was interested in joining the tour. We were suppose to be in the studio all of November, but there was no way we could say no to this. My producer, Tomek Miernowski, who is also my bass player – he’s in the StarKid band too. So the two of us are doing two sets a night. It’s pretty grueling. We’re playing three hours straight. My fingers are getting a workout like they’ve never had before.
Did you have a background in musical theater before this?
Absolutely. My parents are musical theater junkies. I think that’s why I love Rufus Wainwright so much. There’s a certain nostalgia in me for the first albums I’d listen to driving to school – “Evita” and “West Side Story.”
Starkid also pulls you out of the front person role.
It is one of my first sideman gigs. I’ve only been a front woman. Before I went on this tour I was approached to be in an all female Guns n’ Roses tribute band calls Guns n’ Hoses. I’m going to be Slash. I’ve been practicing my shredding. I have to kill the part. Everybody in the band is a front woman. We’re working hard to make sure we walk the walk. That’s been consuming a lot of my time. I was recording from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday and practicing with my band from 8 to 11 and then after that I would practice Starkid. I had to learn 22 songs for this set. And then I would practice Guns n’ Roses.
Has it been a good exercise?
It’s making me more conscious as a guitarist and a musician. In actuality it prepared me for the Starkid set. My technique has improved.
How deep are you into making the next record?
Everything is almost all recorded and when we get back in December we’ll be finishing it up.
What’s it going to be like?
It’s different from my first stuff. My first album I recorded when I was a junior and senior in college. It was my first ever recorded effort. I used acoustic guitars, live drums, banjo, glockenspiel… very indie folk, Andrew Bird and Sufjan Stevens transparently-inspired as a result of the amazing folk culture that Ann Arbor is known and what I listened to a lot when I was starting to write music. I had an acoustic guitar attached to my body at the time. People have called it chamber pop to orchestral folk.
When I made the move to New York, I don’t want to say that was the biggest catalyst, but I started listening to different music. Hip-hop and I’d go to electronic show. I fell in love with pop music again the way I loved it in seventh grade when I listened to the Backstreet Boys and NSync and appreciated a good hook. I still pay attention to arrangements. I appreciate really intricate orchestrations. I love Rufus Wainwright. I try to incorporate that, but I’ve also got like Robyn and (Norweigian musician) Jarle Bernhoft.
Did your band have a hand in transforming the sound?
My drummer Dave Scalia played a big role in the metamorphosis of the new songs. He’s an incredible drum programmer. He’s got beats for days. The sounds he’s made color the record in a distinct way. His personality and talent is going to be all over that. It’s hard to describe pop music because it’s such an umbrella. Thanks to him and the experiences I’ve had and the artists I’ve been exposed to since my move to the city there’s an edgier quality…something rhythmic and hooky, and more carefree about it but also deeply felt. I hope it’s nothing like anyone has heard before. It’s nothing like anything I’ve made before.
Also my philosophy behind the new album, which is called “Animal Love” - in my mind it is loosely a concept album about the way humans process the emotion of love and how its related to our biological instincts and how we’re equipped when its lost. It applies to romantic love and a lust for life. The songs were written a lot quicker than first album where everything was premeditated and edited. This came back to a guttural feel, to create a hook and a melody that drives the song and the lyrics that propel it forward. The process was a lot quicker and I did a lot less editing. I think the title applies to that as well. Its’ a very raw, creative process. I didn’t want to be too intellectual this time. I wanted to have it be more of a release than rumination.
Will you be playing the new material during your set?
We'll be playing most of the new songs on the tour.